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Candles' gentle glow keeps memories alive

December 23, 2000

Candles' gentle glow keeps memories alive



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


The snow had been brushed off the bronze plaque above George G. Dick Jr.'s grave at Rest Haven Cemetery on Saturday night.

Someone had placed a small basket of plastic flowers beside it. A small American flag also stood guard over the World War II veteran's final resting place. A large green wreath decorated with gold chains, red balls and white doves looked as if it had just been placed there a few hours earlier.

A small white bag with a candle inside illuminated the little scene with a soft light.

It wasn't alone. Thousands more illuminated white bags like it sat beside or graced the top of gravestones at the huge cemetery at 1601 Pennsylvania Ave.

They were put there Saturday morning by an army of volunteers or by loved ones of those the graves held.

Charles Brown owns and manages the cemetery. "We've had luminaires here since 1988," he said. The only other Hagerstown area cemetery to follow the practice this time of year is Cedar Lawn Memorial Park, Inc., at 17636 West Washington St. Its luminaire display was also held Saturday.

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Brown said officials at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg fashioned its annual display of 23,000 luminaires after Rest Haven's. "I used to help them at first but they know how to do it now," he said.

Brown could not pinpoint how many candle bags were lit Saturday.

"There are about 15,000 people buried here, but sometimes only one is put on a grave site where there's both a husband and wife," he said.

The number of graves at Rest Haven grows by about 300 a year, he said.

Saturday's activities included bagpipe music by Richard Conrad, who walked around the cemetery and played while the luminaires were being lit late in the afternoon. A Christmas music concert was scheduled for the evening by the St. James Brass Quintet. Members of The Good Shepherd Ministries in Hagerstown walked around the graveyard singing Christmas carols. They also served hot cider and cookies to the candle-lighting volunteers.

Among them were Carol Williamson, 57, of Frederick, Md., and her sister, Irene Shafer, 65, of Hagerstown. They arrived at the cemetery around 4 p.m. and went straight to their parents' grave to light the luminaire there.

"Our mother died this past July. This is our first Christmas without her," Shafer said. Their father died in 1988, they said.

"We wanted to get here early enough so we could light the candle on their grave," Williamson said. They spent the rest of the late afternoon daylight lighting every candle they could see. "We must have done more than 100," Williamson said.

Brown said he sponsors the luminaire project every year because it gives people a chance to feel as if they are spending a little time with a lost loved one, especially those whose family members died during the year. "It's their first Christmas without them," he said.

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